Fudge: The gift that keeps on giving. Or at least keeps on producing articles and tangential discussion in the comments…
(Epilogue to the story: In commemoration of the Act of Fudge in the previous session, my wonderful wife made my gaming group a plate of peanut butter and milk chocolate fudge for Thursday’s game. Ironically, this session ended in a TPK, although the MacGuffin and the storyline were both saved.)
Everyone’s got their own definition, but I don’t consider it to be fudge if the GM makes a change to a situation before it happens. In other words, if the GM decides to tweak the stats for the Sharks With Frickin’ Laser Beams before the party gets to the Shark Tank, that’s not fudging.
Changing a stat or a scenario that is ‘in play’ is definitely fudge. Overriding the dice or otherwise changing the result of an action, or making a change to something after it has already been introduced to the game is fudging. (Such as if the GM changed Big McLargeHuge’s armor class after the players already knew it.)
There’s a bit of a grey area where the GM makes a change to something before that something really matters to the game. If the GM decides that Big McLargeHuge has too many hit points and cuts them by 20%, even after he’s been hit a few times, it’s not necessarily fudge. I’ll leave this one up to you, but beware – Follow this line of logic too deep, and you’ll end up with quantum states for fudge, which is far too geeky a topic even for me.
Recipes for Fudge
I’m sure there are more, but here are a few ways to fudge:
- “Correct” the die rolls. This is probably the most recognizable method of fudging, and may be the most common. This is also probably why rolling in the open has its fans.
- Tweak the numbers. If you can’t move the ball, at least you can move the goalposts. As mentioned above, some gamers distinguish between numbers that are ‘in play’ and numbers that exist only in the GM’s notes.
- Use less-effective tactics. If your monsters have ever attacked a PC because he had highest hit points, then you’ve used this tactic. There can be some justification for this, if the party tank is trying to draw fire. But if the archers are charging into melee while the knights are hanging back and throwing rocks, you may be responsible for a fudgalanche.
When a GM lies, he murders some part of the game.
In some of the comments on this series, it was mentioned that my failing was in fudging overtly, and being too transparent with my players. Had I found a way of smuggling my fudge into the game, we would have had an exciting near-TPK and everything would have been better. (On the down side, I also would have had to come up with three more articles for Gnome Stew…)
Personally, I’m conflicted on the topic of fudge-smuggling. There are times when a die roll is unnecessary, but you make the roll to keep up appearances. There are times when a Really Cool Idea that the entire party is excited about gets tripped up by a single (un)lucky roll. I do understand the temptation of fudge-smuggling.
But to take away some of the risk of the game (as I did) also takes away some of the fun of the game. Players will eventually find out about fudging, and may then wonder how many of their victories were earned, and how many were handed to them. Lying about fudging does not necessarily make it more acceptable. Fudging is another tool in the GM’s toolbox; it’s not necessarily something to hide. (But that donkey fetish? That’s definitely something you should hide.)
Story is important. Risk is important. GM flexibility is important. Justly-earned rewards are important. The integrity of the game is important. GM trust is important. Many things in a game are important. When they come into conflict, know just how important each one is before making the decision.
It is up to each gaming group to define their own attitude towards fudging. Talk about it before it happens, be honest with yourselves and with each other, and don’t stop until you find a compromise that everyone likes.
Mea Maxima Motherfucking Culpa
I fudged to save the story at the expense of the fun of the game. Taking some of the risk out of the game also took some of the fun out of the game. In my defense, story-ending TPKs have a marked tendency to take the fun out of a game, too, and I slightly underestimated my group’s dislike of fudge.
(Intro gentle guitar music.) I’ve learned or re-learned a few things through this experience.
- Talk to your players about fudging and other aspects of the game. Their opinions may surprise you.
- Always have a Plan B, in case it all goes to hell. Because someday, it will.
- Don’t be afraid to fundamentally alter the campaign as you see it. Trust your imagination and problem-solving abilities to find a solution.
- Don’t assume that you have to smuggle the fudge into the game. Your players might be okay with overt fudging, if it is for a good reason.
- You can get three articles and many impassioned comments from a single gaming incident. (So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.)
Thanks for sticking with this series, and all the ins and outs of fudge, or at least one GM’s take on it. Whether you agree, disagree, or just want to see your name in print, please dive into the comments below and sound off with your take on fudging.